Once on a private internet community a few years back we discussed the origins of the townships in Lusaka, something I had forgotten about until a friend asked me to write about it to commemorate the capital city’s centenary this year.
Obviously, a number of other writers have written about some of the names of some of the townships and residential areas such as John Laing, John Howard, Kuku and others having been farms belonging to those people and Kuku having been a cooks’ quarters. I will not talk about these names.
My interest is in the names of residential areas such as Libala, Lilayi, Chilenje, Chainama and even Kabulonga that I will talk about. A Soli friend of mine, now late, who hailed from Nyangwena in the Manyika area of Chongwe explained these names to me over 20 years ago.
As people may know by now, Lusaaka was a Soli village somewhere near where the National Assembly stands in the capital city. But again, the name could have been derived from Lusakasa, the name given to one primary school in the city. We will leave the origins of the name Lusaka here.
Starting with Libala, the Soli phrase, according to my friend, is libala lya kame, translated as my field. It may appear as if the Soli villagers had their maize fields in the Libala area. It is not known how the name came to be used for the township that was built there but one would imagine that when the fields were being cleared, the people were crying libala lya kame, libala lya kame (my field, my field)!
Libala Township stretches from near UTH on the western fringe up to the eastern end of Arakan Barracks. The southern fringe keeps on expanding beyond what was the Njanji Commuter railway line.
For Lilayi, very well known for its police training college several kilometres south of the capital, it probably originated from the Soli expression lilayi lisuba, the sun is setting or what in most Zambian languages is one way of saying, euphemistically, it’s getting late.
It is not clear how and why the people who built Lilayi Training School adopted the name Lilayi but one would imagine that the local Soli workers, at the end of the day, would say lilayi lisuba, pick up their tools and go back to their homes in the surrounding villages.
Chilenje, as you might expect, was probably a village or settlement in which Lenje was mostly spoken in an area of mostly Soli speakers. Lenje language was probably more prominently spoken in the northern fringes of Lusaka but having it spoken in what is now Chilenje was a bit unusual thereby referring to the area by the language spoken there.
The name Chainama has always been associated with the mental hospital of that name to the east of Lusaka’s central business district. It has also assumed connotations of madness or confusion. One would often hear terms such as “you are chainamic!” to mean you are confused.
In Soli, chena simply means well like from a greeting muli anchoni? with ndi chena ma or ta as the case maybe, ma for woman or mother and ta for man or father. Like most names that have been distorted in the process, Chena ma came out as Chainama. One would think that there must have been a revered woman in the area whom everybody responded to as ndi chena ma—I’m well mother—upon her greeting. Simply put, Chainama is a response to a greeting in the Soli language.
Have you ever wondered how the name Kabulonga, even mispronounced with a strong b as in brewery, came about? Legend has it that there lived in that area, a woman who was married to one Buloongo and she was referred to as MukaBuloongo or Buloongo’s wife.
As expected, the English colonial masters must have had difficulties pronouncing the name MukaBuloongo and shortened it to Kabulonga and the name has stuck to this day.
And still talking about names, Lusaka’s residential areas that have English names also have local names which are rarely used if acknowledged. Chelston, Rhodes Park, Northmead, Olympia Park, Villa Elizabetha all have local names.
Chelston is Chakunkula, the name which a school in the area is named after. The local name for Rhodes Park, named after imperialist entrepreneur John Cecil Rhodes, is Maluba.
Northmead is Mutambe while Villa Elizabetha is Namununga. Olympia Park is supposed to be Chiwalamabwe which is the equivalent of mposamabwe or stone throwers which is a reference to Zambia’s freedom fighters. It is probably symbolic that even the National Assembly building was built on Manda Hill in Chiwalamabwe otherwise known as Olympia Park.